The grande dame of Indian fashion, Anju Modi is in a light summery mood these days. In the last week of March, as buds began heralding the onset of spring, she launched her spring-summer 2019 collection ‘Masakali’ at her standalone store in Hyderabad, and then at an all-day pop-up in association with Karan Johar’s jewellery label Tyaani a few days later in Mumbai.
Smiling graciously as Bollywood celebrities walked in and out running their fingers over her delicate, delectable range, she was her quintessential equanimous self, the way those in the industry have seen her for the past 29 years.
Of course, when one conjures up images of Anju’s most famous work, designing the costumes for Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Goliyon ki Rasleela Ram-Leela, and Bajirao Mastani, for both of which she won awards, it is easy to forget that – behind the Bollywood dazzle and cinematic flamboyance – she is also the designer who has painstakingly worked over decades on reinventing age-old artisanal crafts of India.
In the early 1990s, Anju developed a new blended fabric using real zari in Varanasi, moving on to improving variations in Bandhani tie-and-dye techniques by introducing alterations through geometrical patterns and neutral colour ways.
Then came innovations in Kota doria fabrics, Sanganeri block-printing techniques, and Bagru textile crafts from Rajasthan. We owe her for modernizing the Chanderi weave and cultivating a new range of rich khadi.
And even though the common woman may not know of Anju’s contributions to India’s fashion heritage, the world has taken notice. With a spate of awards and recognition from bodies such as UNIDO, Indian Council for UN Relations, and India’s Ministry of Tourism, Anju has truly taken Indian fashion to the world.
A thinker and philosopher, Anju is known for bringing in elements of architecture, poetry, mythology, heritage and literature in her work. But she is as down-to-earth as ever about the fact that her oeuvre extends from the flamboyant costumes of period films to lightweight pret for modern women.
“Working on films such as Bajirao Mastani and Ram-Leela was a breathtaking experience and had a different aspect of its own,” Anju reminisces. “Working so closely with Sanjay Leela Bhansali and understanding his vision of Mastani [the female lead] and other characters made me create those grand garments. I brought in a lot of new concepts of detailing and layering through film, and I am fortunate it is still being loved by people. A lot of my couture is still inspired by those silhouettes.”
Having said all that, Anju adds, she loves letting loose and wearing comfortable clothing as well. “So, that’s what my pret line is about. I have tried to build stories and concepts with my pret collections for the inspired, self-made woman,” she says.
About her new collection, she explains: “Masakali, which means sprouting of a new delicate bud, is the inspiration behind this collection. The ‘Anju Modi’ muse is a dreamer who is free-spirited, easy going and full-of-life. She is delicate yet strong, someone who likes to slow down and take a moment to enjoy herself and explore.”
An interesting aspect of the new collection is introducing ‘tranquility in a hyper-connected world’. Anju elaborates, “With social media nowadays, our lives have become so fast-paced that we need to take a moment to breathe and take some time off. My new collection is about celebrating women who would love to relax and take some time out from their busy world.”
Carefully crafted with luxuriant fabrics like Benarasi chanderi and khadi, and dotted with her signature floral motifs, the collection palette goes from pretty pastels to a muted mustard and charcoal. The silhouettes include easy, elegant kurtas and tunics paired with flowing skirts and relaxed palazzos. Versatility is key, and so each ensemble is made for a timeless wardrobe with jackets in asymmetrical cuts, light overlays and sweeping dupattas that can be draped in myriad ways.
Passionate about designing and creating stories with her clothes, Anju says she is unhindered by the constrictions of time and “simply sketches whenever an idea comes in!” Like a blooming summer garden, a maestro’s creative universe is bountiful indeed.
First published in eShe’s April 2019 issue